THE police and local government units are usually put to task when there are high-profile killings in a locality.

The police are keepers of the peace while the local government officials are the ones given the mandate to keep civilians safe. The spate of killings that hit Cebu underlines some failure on the part of those tasked to protect the citizens.

Citizens do have their role to play in keeping vigilant and in rejecting the use of violence. But the ones on the spot are those whose job and responsibility is to ensure the peace.

Reports cited six high-profile ambush attacks in Cebu in a span of six weeks. Among the victims were hotelier Manuel Ting and engineer Ciriaco Salazar of the Department of Public Works and Highways 4th Engineering District.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia raised last Friday the possibility of a link between the vigilantes who killed criminals through extralegal means and the murderers responsible for the recent killings of businessmen here.

She was quoted in media interviews as saying she received reports that the gunmen hired in recent attacks were the vigilantes who killed over a hundred suspected or newly released criminals starting in December 2004. Garcia chairs the Regional Peace and Order Council that will meet this week on the recent killings.

The governor quoted her source as saying the vigilantes used to receive monthly compensation to go after known criminals but the payments have stopped. They then had to offer themselves as guns for hire.

She also said the person who “inspired” these vigilantes has stopped supporting them. She didn’t name any individual. But the word “inspired” to refer to vigilantism in the city was used by then Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña. In 2005, Osmeña said of the vigilante killings, “I am not behind it (killing of criminals). I will say I inspired it. I don’t deny that.” He also said that, after the public outcry, he too wishes the killings would tone down.

Garcia and Osmeña have been at odds over politics and certain local projects. It does not help the investigation when even the spate of killings is used by politicians to hit at rivals.

The killings also speak of the kind of businessmen in the community who resort to extralegal means to get rid of the competition or to level the playing field. Such businessmen do not deserve to be part of Cebu’s business community.

What was similar in the modus of vigilantes and the killers is their use of motorcycles to reach the kill spot and to escape when the deed is done. The killers are usually masked or use helmets to hide their faces, ride a motorcycle in tandem, and use guns to kill their victims.

Those with the power to implement the law and to ensure the security of the community should work together. Their common target should be those who executed the killings and those who paid the killers. (ninicab@sunstar.com.ph)